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Kids Department seeks funding for foster care and behavioral health services

Roman Battaglia
Delaware Public Media

The state agency focused on the well being of Delaware children seeks additional funds to address behavioral health and staffing challenges.

Thousands of Delaware children interact with the Department of Services for Children, Youth and their Families on a daily basis — through behavioral health, juvenile justice and child welfare services.

An increase in mental health issues resulting from the pandemic has led to a greater need for crisis care. And a lack of proper treatment space means some children find themselves stuck in hospital emergency rooms for weeks; a place not designed to treat mental health.

Kids Department secretary Josette Manning says the department currently operates six crisis beds in New Castle County to alleviate hospitals, but those beds remain in high demand.

“So if there’s a, youth has a crisis down in Sussex; they have to come up to New Castle County, which means it’s harder for their family, it’s harder for us to work with their family — because part of getting them home or or to their next placement involves working with the family,” says Manning.

The crisis beds are designed to help stabilize children in a mental health crisis, before referring them to a long-term care facility.

The department is asking for $700 thousand to fund the operation of four additional crisis beds in southern Delaware.

Overall, that $700 thousand is a part of a $7 million increase sought by the Kids Department budget this year, bringing the agency’s total budget to around $205 million.

manning adds $1.5 million of that would go to a program helping foster children facing difficult and complex situations.

“Youth who have co-occurring disorders — it could be Autism and aggression, whatever,” she says. “As you can imagine, there are not a lot of average citizens who are able to welcome those children. And we really struggle to find stable placements.”

A Therapeutic Foster Care program would train foster families to manage intensive and complex child care situations, saving the state money by avoiding the high cost of sending children out-of-state

The department also addressed continuing difficulties recruiting and retaining staff across it’s divisions.

The Division of Youth Rehabilitative Services reports it’s losing as many staff as it’s recruiting, with many applicants heading to easier and more flexible jobs at companies such as Amazon.

Manning says that’s why her department is seeking $50 thousand to fund a tuition reimbursement program — she says a small trail run of this initiative proved very successful in both hiring staff and keeping them on.

Roman Battaglia is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms.

Corrected: February 10, 2022 at 8:40 PM EST
This story has been updated, the quotes were misattributed to Management Services director Alison McGonigal and have been corrected.
Roman Battaglia grew up in Portland, Ore, and now reports for Delaware Public Media as a Report For America corps member. He focuses on politics, elections and legislation activity at the local, county and state levels.